SpaceX will try to make history by reusing a rocket tonight from the Space Coast
SpaceX is scheduled to launch a communications satellite from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida today using a rocket stage that has already been to space and back. SpaceX is betting that this kind of recycled rocket will soon lower its costs and revolutionize space flight.
The launch is set for 6:27 p.m. local time from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The 11,600-pound SES-10 satellite will replace two existing satellites and will provide broadband and high-definition video capabilities throughout Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
What makes this such a big story is that the aerospace industry essentially throws away its hefty rockets. Partway into orbit, the big, expensive first stage falls off and plunges back to earth.
That means an entirely new rocket — which costs tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to make — has to be built for each launch. But SpaceX’s plan has been to recover its rockets after launch rather than throw them away, so that the vehicles can be used again. That way, the company can save on manufacturing a completely new vehicle, and potentially lower the cost of each mission.
In truth, only part of the Falcon 9 is being reused on this mission. After each launch, SpaceX tries to save just the first stage of its vehicles. That’s the 14-story-tall main body of the Falcon 9 that contains the primary engines and most of the fuel. About 10 minutes or so after each launch, the first stage separates from the top portion of the rocket and makes a controlled dive back to Earth. The leftover fuel is used to reignite the engines on the rocket in a series of burns, to help the vehicle reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and then slow down for landing. This technique is known as supersonic retro propulsion.
A launch on one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets costs at least $62 million, according to the company’s website, making it about 40% cheaper than the $109 million price of an Atlas V rocket quoted on the website of rival United Launch Alliance.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has said reusable rockets could eventually cut launch prices by an additional 30%.
If today’s launch is a success and SpaceX is able to repeat the feat over and over again, the company could turn up the pressure on their competition.
So, you can bet all of those interested in space travel in the future will be watching today’s launch from the Kennedy Space Center with great interest.